Having conquered primaries, Netanyahu looks ahead to general elections

Netanyahu must figure out how to bring 61 seats to the right-wing camp by March 2.

By World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proved once more his popularity with the masses, winning by a landslide against his challenger Gideon Sa’ar. Although the challenge was criticized by Netanyahu loyalists, the primaries have had the effect of encouraging his rank-and-file supporters and reaffirming his popularity ahead of the general elections.

The prime minister’s next challenge is to figure out a way to bring 61 Knesset seats to the right-wing camp on March 2, the day set for Knesset elections. He must do so without the help of Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beiteinu party, formerly a reliable member of Israel’s right, which broke away over religious-secular issues in Israel’s first election in April.

Israel Beiteinu’s break forced a second election in September, which also ended in a stalemate, leading to yet a third election, unprecedented in Israel’s history.

According to Israel Hayom, Likud members and Netanyahu confidantes believe a strong, positive campaign on the ground will lead to the desired result.

On Sunday, a party meeting will be held on the final night of Chanukah in Tel Aviv, the paper reports. Netanyahu is expected to embrace Sa’ar and call for working together toward victory.

Likud whip Miki Zohar told Israel Hayom, “The primaries were an excellent indication of how to win an election campaign and how to increase our strength in the general elections. We enlisted two very clear strategies: A lot of ground work, which woke up our side. And in addition to that, we didn’t attack our opponent and almost ignored him. We saw in the result of these primaries that this lowers the enthusiasm of the other side.”

Netanyahu won 100 of the 106 polling places. The final voting result was 41,792 to 15,885. Netanyahu’s camp was initially nervous as voter turnout was low (a situation expected to help Sa’ar) due to torrential rains across the country. In the end, Netanyahu took 72.5 percent of the vote to Sa’ar’s 27.5 percent.

Sa’ar was never expected to win, but Likud observers said if he scored 30 percent or higher, it would have been considered a successful challenge and he would have placed himself in a good position to take the reins of the party in a post-Netanyahu era.

Sa’ar conceded defeat to Netanyahu, posting on Saturday night: “I thank the 15,885 Likud members who voted for me yesterday believing I should lead the party. This is a very large public. I am proud of your support, your dedication, your courage. As a democrat – I accept and respect the majority’s decision. It does not contradict that I know we did the right thing.”

He pledged his support to Netanyahu in the coming general elections. “I and my friends stand behind you in the campaign for the success of the Likud in the elections on March 2,” he said in a congratulatory call to the prime minister.

Netanyahu thanked Sa’ar and said, “Now we can all work together for Likud victory in elections for the Knesset.”